French Products & Their Equivalents

Navigating your way around a French supermarket can be tricky. Going food shopping, what may seem like a simple task, presents some surprising obstacles. Many things are done just ever so slightly differently in France. Often it is not just a question of direct translation and there are many products that you simply will not be able to find in France however this article will help you to find the best equivalents and introduce you to some new and exciting options that the French supermarket has to offer that you may not know about so that you can continue cooking in the way that you love!

Right from the start the French supermarket shopping experience can seem unfamiliar but it is just a question of getting accustomed to the French shopping rituals! On first entering the supermarket in order to get a trolley (or a chariot as the French call it!) you will probably have to put a euro into the cart in order to free it for use. If you ask, the customer service desk might provide you with a jeton which you can keep in your purse for next time ! At the end of the shop you will have to pack your own shopping so be sure to bring a plastic bag or an equivalent so you don’t have to pay for one every time! After having secured your trolley you are all set to explore.

Fruit & Vegetables

Many vegetables in French supermarkets are laid out just as they would be in a market. This is not like many Anglo-Saxon supermarkets where the vegetables are a set price and readily packaged. A small tip when buying fruit or vegetables is to look for local produce as it will most likely be a lot more tasty.

Pricing is done on weight so don’t be put off by what may seem like a high price, that is usually the price of 1 kilogram and you’re unlikely to be buying that much! Make sure you weigh your fruit and vegetables on the small machine usually located just to the side, do this before you get to the checkout otherwise you will have to go back and weigh them and you will not be very popular amongst the other shoppers. The weighing machine should generate a ticket for you to stick on your chosen produce.

The Meat Section

The main thing that seems to stump many in the meat section is bacon. Word of advice; bacon is not the same in France! Poitrine has probably the most likeliness to the crispy bacon strips you are used to for breakfast but it is not exactly the same. Lardons both nature (plain) and fumé (smoked) are small diced bits of bacon – these work perfectly in quiches.

The majority of large supermarkets will have meat in the refrigerated section or if not at a counter where you can order your cut of meat. If ever in doubt head to the boucherie and inquire – the butchers will be more than happy to help when it comes to talking about meat!

The Dairy Section

One of the biggest surprises in a French supermarket is that the milk is often stacked on the shelves rather than in the refrigerator. Most French milk is pasteurised and therefore has a much longer shelf life than many of us Anglo-Saxons are used to. Whilst the taste can be different it can just be a question of getting used to as it. You will find that it is very handy to have around the house. Simply put it in the fridge and it is essentially the same. If you really don’t like it, do not worry too much as there is some fresh milk in the refrigerator that you can normally find next to the butter. The main types of milk are demi-écrémé (typically sold with a blue lid) which is the equivalent of semi-skimmed and entier (typically with a red lid) meaning whole milk.

Skim milk is usually sold under the brand name Bridelight. Or you may find it simply labelled as écrémé. Other types of milk such as soy milk (lait de soya) are available in health food stores and can sometimes be found in the bio section of many supermarkets.

In terms of creams the one that screams out of the chiller cabinet at a French supermarket is Crème fraiche, this is stiff, a bit like sour cream and you can use it in most cooking and sometimes as an accompaniment to sweet dishes, it’s great with fruit tarts. Other creams are those such as crème fraiche fluide, crème entiere liquide, (both of which you can pour) crème fouettée, and frothy crème chantilly, which comes in an aerosol can and is great for swirling on chocolate cake! With the vast selection choosing one can be rather daunting. The essential thing to take note of is that a cream must have at least 30 per cent fat content to whip, creams with less are delicious for sauces or baking but will not whip.

Even more intimidating than the cream section is the yoghurt section where the variety on offer is so extensive! If you like yoghurt France is the right place! Nature means plain, not natural. Yaouart brassé is yoghurt with a very smooth texture. Fromage frais and fromage blanc are not yoghurts and have no real English equivalent, they are smooth, gently cheesy but thicker than yoghurt and typically served for pudding with fruit, honey or just stirred around with some added sugar.

Here are just a few tips – you are on your own with cheese and wine but remember every region has a match and you must explore, these are the glories of France after all – be adventurous!

Key Words For Baking Ingredients in France

  • Farine de blé = All-purpose flour
  • Levure chimique = baking powder
  • Bicarbonate alimentaire = baking soda
  • Levure boulanger = yeast
  • Sucre en poudre = sugar
  • Sucre vergeoise = brown sugar
  • Sucre glace = powdered sugar